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Elderly Durham Residents Alert Police to Home Equity Scam

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DURHAM — Durham police say they have stopped a scam targeting senior citizens, but not before some elderly residents lost a total of $200,000.

Three victims in their 70s and 80s may have been bilked out of up to $200,000 through home equity loans of which they had no knowledge.

Margaret Morrison, 83, says she knows the person who took everything she had. She says suspect Beatrice McCollum was her next door neighbor for 15 years.

Police say Morrison is just one of the citizens ripped off in the scam.

"I don't know, we are trying to figure out how she did it. Because I didn't have to sign anything for her to get it," says Morrison.

Investigators think McCollum got account numbers and personal information during friendly visits with her victims. She knows each of the people she is accused of scamming.

"Large sums of cash, $50,000, $60,000 at a clip. As little as $6,000 or $7,000 checks have been cashed," says Cpl. Fran Borden of the Durham Police Department.

"She called me Sunday after church and told me how sorry she was. She was sorry for what she did to me," says Morrison. "I didn't say anything."

McCollum is charged with obtaining money by false pretenses, specifically, securing equity loans on the older citizens accounts without them knowing about it.

Police are still looking for the McCollum who ran from a police investigator Monday morning. Two others, who police call "lesser players," have been arrested and charged with obtaining money by false pretenses.

"This entire scam may reach $200,000," says Borden. "And again, it is being purported against the elderly, and it's logical because their homes are paid for. So it's 'let's go out and secure a bunch of equity loans against people who have already paid off their homes because there is more money involved in there.'"

Police say they have stopped McCollum, but not before she cashed in big. When police approached the suspect at her home, they noticed lots of new clothes, computers and have learned she may have purchased two new cars.

The victims in this case are the ones who tipped off police. One man says he received a letter in the mail saying he had been approved for $80,000 in loans that he did not apply for.

Anyone who suspects they may have been a target of this scam is asked to call police and their bank immediately.

Police say this case is a wake up call to all older citizens. They suggest getting a credit check done every six months.

Here are the numbers for the three major credit reporting agencies:
  • Equifax:To report fraud:1-800-525-6285To order a report:1-800-685-1111Experian(formerly TRW):To report fraud:1-800-301-7195To order a report:1-800-682-7654TransUnion:To report fraud:1-800-680-7289To order a report:1-800-888-4213
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